Distances and Places

Charlotte represents the center of our loosely planned itinerary. The middle of a trip is when you can fully fledge yourself into “living in the moment” without the anxiety of the beginning and the nostalgia of the end. Charlotte was always a place that has “a lot of Muslims” but I never imaged that the city would one day become part of a narrative that I would write to share with the world.
The diversity of experience increases our appreciation of life and inspires us to search for answers.  Even if Charlotte is where we found our vibrant Muslim stories, the sojourn in Asheville made me grasp the significance of our purpose to document the Muslim experience. We made it to the mosque in Asheville but never to the Muslims. As I explored the books, flyers, worksheets, leftover food, and collection of scarves lying around, I desperately wanted to understand the life force of the mosque. Was the Iman running a one-man show or was there an Islamic board that had weekly meetings? What kind of mothers valued an Islamic education for their children and made sure they came to Sunday school?While walking through the charming boulevards in Asheville, I had the longing to spark a conversation with countless strangers that passed by me.  I don’t know if I can speak for everyone but the slight hollowness we felt only gave fuel to a burning desire to reach out and make conversation but we didn’t want to intrude on anyone (or look like creepers).  Only recently have I began breaking out of my shy mold and I sense the

Our faces brightened up when we entered the Mosque Al-Shaheed and we tacitly acknowledged that it is the of vibrancy of people that breathes life into buildings such as mosques, churches, synagogues, and temples.  The mosque has primarily an African-American following and certainly lives up to its reputation for spiritual foundation for its members. Sister Naline greeted me and minutes soon turned into an hour as we discussed our life narratives and struggles with Islam.  Living and breathing since 1940, Sister Naline encountered Islam through the influence of her husband and said the Shahada when “she knew it was time”.  As a convert, she found strength through her husband, a soft-spoken man who was a close friend of the Imam and was sitting quietly on the other side of the room. Even when one does not have a wide social circle, the companionship and guidance of a single person can be a guiding force in life. Sister Naline and her husband visit the Masjid regularly and but much of their religious life takes place at home when they serve as groundwork for each other.

An active member of the mosque, she strongly believes in education, a religious upbringing for children, and establishing a strong support system.  Life comes with many experiences and some situations call for intervention or action. Sister Naline spent a majority of her life in life in New Jersey, which has a sizeable Muslim community.  However, when the local mosque was not receptive to her ideas, she followed her lead on Al-Shaheed’s renown and settled in Charlotte 3 years ago.  Part of her concerns is the disparity between Muslims and she wishes to see youth involvement increase in the mosque. For her, the support system creates a sense of family as she pointed to the lively ladies sitting behind us.

On a personal level, I also feel that the self-segregation of Muslims may lead to a decreased sense of community, as people tend to rely more on culture than Islam in regards to religious life and whom they choose to associate with. In Charlotte itself, there are 3 main mosque and it’s commonly known that “one’s for the Arabs, one is for the Africans, and the other is for the Desis”.  My hometown of Orlando also has similar religious dynamics and I’ve always been disconcerted by lack of communication between Muslims of different ethnic groups.  Perhaps, I am wrong and these differences stem from other factors such as history of business relationships.  History lesson of the day: many present day African mosques started out as Nation of Islam mosques and have fostered a community of African American Muslims in pockets in America.

At the back of my mind, I hope that my experiences with NNC will give me insight on the subtle but evident concerns I have about my relationship with Islam. Already, I feel that I have a sense of direction for my questions. Recognizing possible issues is one of the first steps in implementing change. Even if we are wrong about our concerns, having concern is a vital stage in becoming a conscious individual.  Maybe one day I will make it to taking a stand and garner change but first I must understand.

We are traveling many distances but finding the distances and barriers that people have put up was a key element in our understanding of community and religious life.